Much has been written about the opening statement given by lead defense attorney Jose Baez. The sexual abuse allegations were shocking. In fact so shocking that the prosecution had do do some quick thinking and called father George Anthony as their first witness. Not to address the sexual abuse subject but to perform a quick character rehabilitation. This was a good move and by taking this step likely stopped a smoldering fire from burning in the jurors minds.
I am not a legal expert, but do consider myself to know a few of the basic rules in the legal system. The question I kept repeating to myself was how could Jose Baez possibly bring the sexual abuse allegation into evidence? It seems to have little relevance to the charges that Casey Anthony faces, but if proven could provide for a good mitigating factor.
It would seem unlikely that father George Anthony or Casey’s older brother Lee Anthony would take the stand and voluntarily open up that line of questioning. Many people are speculating that to bring the sexual abuse allegations into the trial Jose Baez will be forced to place Casey Anthony on the stand. While we would all love to see that, it seems unlikely that Baez would take the risk. The prosecution would tear her apart like a pack of rabid wolves.
A few weeks ago the was was a pre-trial hearing, I cannot remember the exact date. The defense put forward a motion that essentially asked that a third party be allowed to ‘tell Casey’s story’. It was all part and parcel of the Mental Health expert debacle. Judge Perry denied the motion. In retrospect this was clearly the vehicle planned to deliver the sexual abuse testimony.
For the better part of two daysÂ have played scenario after scenario in my head and come up blank on how this is going to get into evidence. I decided to ask well known Florida Criminal Defense Attorney John Contini his thoughts. You might be surprised, I certainly was.
Firstly the clock starts ticking when you are 21, you have 4 years to file before the statute of limitations expires. The exception to this rule is if the abuse occurred when the person was 11 or younger.
(Jose Baez mentioned that it happened between ages 8 to 13, so this is a go).
At first look you are right in assuming that it may be tricky for the defense to introduce the evidence. It would be surprising for either George Anthony or his Son Lee Anthony to take the stand and take the fall. You are also correct that putting Casey on the stand might be very problematic. However there is a solution.
Under normal circumstances you cannot have a witness say something like ‘Simon told me that Joe told me…..’, in legal terms this is called hearsay. It is not admissible.
However, there is one exception to this rule in the State of Florida. The Hearsay exception was specifically crafted for sexual abuse cases involving children. Under this rule it is permissible for a third party to offer hearsay. This exception is relatively new on the statute books, something like 10 years and not well known even within the legal profession.
Hmm, I do hope that we have not just given the defense an idea!
John Contini also pointed out another nuance of the legal system, specifically what the term Hostile Witness means.
Should the defense declare George Anthony or indeed any witness hostile and the judge agree, the rules of engagement changes significantly. It is now possible to ask ‘leading questions’. These can open doors that otherwise normally remain closed.
I think todays ‘gas can’ adventure between Jose Baez and George Anthony lays the foundation for the attempt to declare George as hostile.
The bottom line is that there is a possible strategy to get the sexual abuse allegations in front of the jury without putting Casey Anthony on the stand.
John Contini, is a highly experienced, veteran criminal defense attorney, has successfully represented thousands of criminal defendants in Florida and throughout the United States over the pastÂ 23 years. Contini, a former Broward County (South Florida) felony trial prosecutor, has defended the criminally accused since 1983. His practice expanded in the last several years to include the areas of personal injury and wrongful death, but Contini is best known for his success in the area of criminal defense, including murder, drug cases, juvenile cases, white collar crimes, sex crimes, and federal criminal defense. He can be found online at JohnContini.com and Danger Road is available at better bookstores everywhere or from Amazon.